Friends That Heal

There are so many things that heal.

Sometimes words are enough to cover you and wash away a bad thought or a tough moment. The speaker’s lullabies softly swaddle you back to baseline. Sometimes they come from caring friends, sometimes a stranger. and sometimes straight from the boombox. Words can be like a candle in the dark, illuminating things you knew were there but couldn’t remember just how far away or in what direction they lie.

Other times we need action to fill our emptiness, our sadness, our shortcomings. We forget how to love ourselves, why we began this journey or how to put one foot in front of the other to keep ourselves moving. For that we rely on friends to step up to the plate and show us how to do it. We watch them first and then repeat what was modeled. We use training wheels and we need reinforcers when we do something right. We need a lot of reminders and a lot of attention. This stage makes us feel vulnerable and inadequate because we think we should be better, stronger, and less dependent. But, we have all been there and we will surely return. It is a place where we learn about ourselves and the company we prefer to keep.

Physical activity and exploration heal when the body is drained and the soul has forgotten how to take flight.

Quiet and solitude heal when our thoughts are more tangled than a bag full of necklaces and chains. We crave alone time to center ourselves.

Crowds and laughter heal when we have forgotten that there is joy in every situation.

Routines and predictability heal the lost and confused.

We are all seeking something. We all have healing that needs attention and often times we lack the awareness to ask for exactly what we need so we rely on those around us to help. I am INSANELY lucky to have people, scattered all over the country, who pick me up when I am down, who help me put my pieces back together. People who fill me with words that I could never tell myself and seem to never run out of steam for the innumerable times they have to remind me I am worth it. Find yourself a friend or two who sees past the bullshit and right into the heart of you. When you find someone like that let them know and don’t ever let the light fade. Spend the time to genuinely love and care for others and you will discover that giving yourself away ends up filling your life, rewarding you, 10 times more.

There are so many things that heal and the best of them is friendship.

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Turn It Off and Back On Again

Spring Break you did it to me again. You swept me off my feet and into a world without rules, deadlines, and obligations. No bedtimes or alarms, no places to be and no phone calls to make. You let me shut off my daily grind and escape into the freedom of truly, deeply, experiencing life with all 5 of my senses.

I used the 10 days I had in Arizona to shut my battery off and recharge it. I did a complete system reset. I didn’t hold myself to a schedule or allow myself to feel guilty for not slicing every day, returning emails or showering. I just existed. I did what I wanted, whenever I wanted. I got out and walked this earth: I touched and tasted things I have been missing for a very long time. I saw new things and I remembered old things. I smiled at the sun and I let the moon and stars talk to me. I listened closely as words and sounds swirled in a symphony of jubilation. The rush of new smells intrigued me and the calming of memory-ladden scents around each corner made nostalgia ever present.

I didn’t cross off very many things from my to-do list in those 10 days but I accomplished more than I thought was possible. I found a piece of me that was buried in the desert. I let her return, I welcomed her back in and fused her together with the newer pieces of me. I also discovered a contentedness with pieces of me I no longer need or want. I set those free to live in the chronicles of my life depicting how I became this woman no longer continuing a certain path.

10 days of rebooting, discovering and organizing. Time to turn me back on again and find that the ol’ on/off trick really does work.

Arizona Happiness

The sun and the stars make my heart soar. I am infinitely more happy when I am here in the desert with the sun beating down on me. My skin is warm and so is my soul.

I woke up this morning with an inkling of an airplane wine headache but nothing could stop me from smiling ear to ear. I was in my happy place. Arizona does it for me every time.

Early morning shower, a brief walk and a windows down car ride to one of my favorite breakfast joints. Errands around town cruising with the sun shining, music blaring and memory-pilot taking the wheel. Lunch around campus, walking, reminiscing, wishing and daydreaming. I remember this and what about that. We relived the glory days while being fully aware that today was a glory day.

I cannot fully explain what this place does for me. My heart is full, I feel peace and I have room to fly here.

Arizona is a lot like me: dry, full of prickly things and only appealing to a certain group of people. But to those who see the beauty, it is a place where happiness is realized.

Cactus, palm trees, sun, oh my!

Turn Your Light On

There are very few people I would drive 2 hours in freezing rain/snow for. There are even fewer people I would drive there and back on a school night for. And even fewer that fall in the category of “just so I can knock on your door and ask you to go get your nails done with me”.

I left off on this adventure thinking I was doing it for you. “Wow, aren’t I such a good friend going to check on her when I have a million other things I need to be doing?” The whole car ride there I was preoccupied with lists and don’t forgets. I was not really thinking about you or about me or either of our situations. It was just another quick trip to see my bestie. A wellness check. For you, not me.

I was wrong.

I left feeling complete again. I had no idea the gaping holes I had since the last time we hung out. I didn’t realize I needed recharging that bad. But, that is pretty typical for me: put everything else in front of my own needs and pretend like it is all okay. After a simple night of talking and existing beside you I am feeling more than ready to tackle tomorrow. I am whole again, for the moment, and I know you feel the same. I saw the light return to your eyes. Your laugh deepened and your shoulders relaxed. Let that be how you carry yourself through the rest of the week.

Let that be how you carry yourself through the rest of your life.

Now this place we are in calls for action and you aren’t so great at that without a massive shove to one side or the other. I am the one pushing you and pulling you to my side. There are others roping you back in.

I see the allure of both places. One is comfy and one is scary. One is frustrating as all get out and one has a shiny new gleam, but does it last? One holds memories and one offers a fresh start. One rests on laurels and the other startles your confidence.

I want you to be brave. I want you to do something new and scary and see how gratifying it is to stand on your own. I want you to smile again and find a place that feels like you belong. I know you vacillate in your vestibule, but it is time to turn the light on for yourself instead of waiting for someone who does it for you or being resentful when it stays off.

Have I ever lead you astray? Except for the car being an ice skate thing. And the baseball game thing. And that one time with Jimmy Buffett. But other than that, really, have I?

Turn your light back on. The rest of us miss it.

Things My Parents Said

Sometimes I hear them come flying out of my mouth. Before I can stop my lips from moving and my breath from escaping, the words have flown over my teeth and out into the universe where they can never be unheard.

See ya later, alligator
Okie dokie, artichokie
Jiminy crickets!
Sugar plum
I see, said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw

And a variety of unquotable moments like an inappropriately loud laugh or a super technical answer for a super simple question. A pep talk that does more embarrassing than pepping or laughing at my own joke only fit for fools.

My parents come out of my mouth more than I’d like to admit. Growing up, these were all cringe-worthy moments, especially if my friends were around. One time in particular, when I had just had my wisdom teeth out, my friends were at my house visiting their pal who had nearly died through dental procedure. They had convinced a potential suitor to tag along on this visit (probably a terrible idea looking back on it, but, ya know, hormones and such). I was wearing my favorite pair of bright red Juicy sweatpants and a white cami with my hair pulled back in a bun. I had just taken my gauze out and we were nervously (druggily) chatting in the living room. My dear old dad walks through and, without looking at us, in a low and serious voice, says, “Don’t believe anything she says. That’s why her pants are red.” He didn’t stop walking to explain himself, wait for a reaction or laugh at his own joke. He just kept on movin’.

Crickets. No one said anything. We stared at each other waiting for someone to offer up some clarification on what had just happened. All at once we burst out laughing as it occurred to us that he was joking about my pants being on fire.

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

14 years later and these bits are part of my daily vernacular. I secretly love when someone mocks me for using this silly language because it connects me to my parents. It makes me smile this little girl smile with a flash memory of rolling my eyes at them but only half meaning it because those words carry so much love and warmth. The attention my parents gave me was frustrating and addicting at the same time. I loved to hate those little sayings, the dad jokes, the misheard lyrics and the smothering questions. No, nevermind, I just hated the latter.

When these words escape my mouth, when I hear myself sound like them, I am instantly reminded of how loved I am and how ridiculously great my parents are. When I have kids of my own I will see the smile beneath the eye roll and know that one day they will love to hate the little things I did to purposely annoy them.

Sunday Sadness

Sunday night, how I hate you.

Every week, about 3:00 PM I get this sinking feeling. My chest tightens and I begin biting my lip (I do that when I’m feeling anxious). My mind races with all the things I didn’t get done over the weekend, commitments I have coming up this week, and I begin sorting and prioritizing my mental to-do list.

It does not matter how beautiful the weather is, how relaxing my weekend has been, or how “easy” my week will be. Every 7 days, without fail, I get the Sunday Sadness. I have lost sleep, gained weight and been physically ill from this anxiousness. I can distract myself with friends and activities but eventually it creeps in. I begin to prepare myself for battle. The thoughts and worries of the week consume me.

Except for tonight my attitude had a major overhaul. Remember I told you I am working on training my brain and this is part of it I didn’t realize needed work. I had accepted the Sunday Sadness as part of working where I work. I am embarrassed to say that for 30 weeks I have only been concerned with my own mental health and have been selfish with not seeking a remedy. It has become habit to feel drained before I begin. I chalked it up to a warrior wound. Sundays are hard for me as I sit comfortably in my warm, clean house with a glass of wine watching cable television after eating take-out with my husband and our dog. I have anxiety about going to school tomorrow where there will be 23 kids who have been looking forward to being there since Friday afternoon.

Tonight I was abruptly reminded about the intricacies of life for my students. Some things that I take for granted, don’t even think twice about, are daily stressors for my kids. Running water, (healthy) food in the refrigerator, clean clothes, predictability and safety. Of course I have known and noticed the discrepancies between our lives prior to now. Of course I understand and consider the effect that has on their development and academic/social/emotional achievement. It wasn’t until tonight, though, that I stopped to consider exactly what was happening across town in that dark apartment. Like, really consider it. I had always put up a screen that shielded me from that reality and made mine more intense. Tonight the dichotomy was glaring and I suddenly missed my kids an extraordinary amount. The tight chest disappeared, the lip biting turned into tears welling up in my eyes and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude took over. I am so glad that I have been put in this place to do the work that I am more than capable of and absolutely love doing. I have not had some major revolution that is going to change everything about how I approach my job or treat my kids. I will still lose my patience and I will still make mistakes but tomorrow their morning hugs are going to be a little longer and a little tighter as I welcome them into our shared place. And maybe next Sunday I will have a little bit lighter chest, a little less sweaty palms and a little more positivity.

Friends Like Family

When you find a friend that feels like family it is important to hold on to them.

Leaving my Spaulding family in Chicago felt like I was being torn away from a large source of my happiness. They knew me inside and out and gave me a purpose for existing. I am someone who thrives on relationships. I need strong connections with people to feel complete. When we moved I lost a big part of that. Because I have experienced this before, I knew better than to think I would never get that back again, I just didn’t know how or when. I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

On day one in my new district I met Taylor. Being around her was easy; it felt like I had known her for years. We shared stories, we connected through common beliefs and practices and we stuck together when things were not as we had expected. When we introduced our husbands they became instant friends. Her family has welcomed me and made me feel at home.

Our friendship has continued to grow as we both settled into life in our new town. Today, I spent 5 hours with her and her family in a school gym that smelled like vomit watching 5th grade boys play basketball. I could not have been happier. Tonight we didn’t do anything spectacular: dinner and drinks at dive bars around town. Something spectacular happened though. We laughed harder than is socially acceptable. We talked endlessly, topics spanning the gamut of typical and innappropate conversation subjects. We read each other’s body language and knew what the other was thinking before it was said. There were no hidden moments, no camouflage to conceal less than pretty moments with our spouse.

I am incredibly lucky to have found yet another friend who gets me, who sees life the same way I do. I am privileged to count Taylor as fremily. It is clear to me that my weirdness attracts goodness so I keep putting it out into the universe and I am receiving gifts in the form of magical friends ten fold.

Driving

Driving has always been our thing. From the time we started dating we have always spent quality time on the road together. In college he lived 30 min away and was an older man with a car so, naturally, I let him shuttle me around. Early morning rides home to the dorm before he went golfing, late night dates he was always late for, desert adventures, mountain trips. They all came so easy. The conversation flowed and no questions were left unasked. We were always left wanting, craving more.

Our relationship evolved and so did our car chats. We were in a cross-country road trip phase. This period was when we discovered real life things about each other. How we handle getting lost, what we do when we are at crossroads, who chooses safe and who chooses fun. Who makes the better hotel decisions. Bodily noises and fragrances. And who can hold their pee the longest. We found that we balance each other quite well. Where he fails I flourish and when I fail to be any semblance of a responsible adult he gently reminds me it’s time to grow up.

In the past few years we have matured into the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods phase. We travel from our small town in the middle of Illinois to visit family and friends who are close to our heart. We have spread our tire tread all over the flat, straight, empty highways connecting us to Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago. We travel together and we travel separately. We encourage each other to make the time needed for the people and activities that make our hearts feel whole. We know that we cannot be enough for each other. We recognize that without the other person being a complete version of themselves our relationship is doomed. The parts we love most about each other is often dependent on outside interactions so we embrace that need and set each other free.

I know our road trip isn’t finished and the next phase will present a new obstacle, new knowledge and new memories.

Driving is our thing. Happiness is our thing.

Searching for My Anthem

In the Middle.

I hear it and my body starts moving, uncontrollably, with a swagger fit only for MTV music videos. My hips sway, my feet bounce. I am obsessed.

Because I am obsessed I play the song incessantly. In my classroom. In my car. From my phone. While I clean the house. Walking the dog. Working out. Just kidding, I don’t work out.

Because I play the song everywhere, people around me have started to associate the song with me. It is probably because the song and I are both impossibly amazing and catchy, hard to get out of your mind once we creep in there. When they hear the song on the Target commercial, I get a text. When it comes on the radio I get an audio clip with a smiley emoji. When they don’t want to forget to take their crockpot home from work they ask me to sing a remembering song to the tune of my theme song.

Because I have a theme song I need to be the spokesperson for this jam. I should be able to recite all verses at any given moment, speak about the artists, discuss the deeper meaning of the lyrics, etc. So, I researched the artists and their history. I listened to their individual music. I found the song’s placement on the Billboard charts. Then, I looked up the lyrics to this song and everything turned dark. Turns out the song does not say,

“I need you on my skechers, come on, pull me into ya.”

This song is not about being on top of a loved ones responsible, reflective shoe choice. It actually says,

I need you on my skin, just come over, pull me in, just.

So, I’m going to have to find a new theme song now. The whole reason I loved it was the idea of a love story blossoming around affordable, safe, almost stylish shoes. I will mourn the loss of what could have been for me and The Middle but I will not give up my search for the perfect anthem.

Just Me

He interlaced his fingers with mine and lifted our hands in the air. He looked at her but I didn’t. He heard the music but I didn’t. At 2:30 pm I was too zonked to really even care what was happening.

We had just finished a mindfulness activity led by the most amazing behavior coach of all time and it was time to dance it out. This is our daily routine: after specials we meet with another first grade class and teach our brains to focus. We are training our brains to shift from external stimulus to internal zen. We are learning to calm the temperature-rising feelings of excitement and adventure and replace them with deep breathing, finger tracing and body awareness.

I was not doing a great job.

I was not fully present.

This little guy, who is a frequent flier in the “What Personal Space?” Club, was grabbing onto me yet again. That wasn’t enough to shake me back. The song and dance we have done a hundred times blasting in my ear wasn’t enough either. The questioning looks and comments from the adults in the room who clearly noticed I had vacated the premises didn’t compel me. I was a goner. I was a teacher zombie, acting out the moves in an almost human fashion but not quite believable.

It was our turn. This was our moment. Every day we dance together in the middle of the circle in the craziest, most ridiculous but delightful way. He was taking my hand and leading me, telling me that we were a team and it was us against the critics. I wasn’t budging. I barely blinked. And we didn’t get called. The music faded and the children sat back down. The look on his face told me we had missed an important moment. I had abandoned ship when the wind and stars were just right for dancing on the deck. The tears welled, the lip quivered and that was enough to bring me right back in.

Something always brings me back.

I am learning to focus my brain. I am learning to replace some behaviors with coping skills that better suit my surroundings. I keep searching for my inner zen in a world full of distracting stimulus. I am becoming just me.